Case Expected to go to Jury Early Next Week
By Will Johnson
HOUSTON COUNTY – The trial of James Eddie Henderson on a charge of aggravated kidnapping – related to the death of Vanessa Melson – concluded Friday, Sept. 22 with the prosecution resting their case . The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 25 at the Houston County Courthouse in Crockett. The case is expected to go to the jury early next week.
Henderson, a 37-year-old former Grapeland resident, stands accused of helping to facilitate the kidnapping of Melson, which led to her untimely death in mid-June of 2015. Melson’s body was found partially buried in a shallow grave on July 6, 2015.
The trial is being held in the 349th District Court with District Judge Pam Foster Fletcher presiding. The prosecution is led by Houston County District Attorney Donna Kaspar and Henderson is represented by Palestine attorney Stanley Sokolowski.
After jury selection was held on Tuesday, Sept. 19, the eight-man and six-woman jury (two alternates) heard expert testimony from Chester Gwin with the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office and from forensic data analyst Cody Breunig who provided testimony about data recovered from the cell phones of Robert Mobley, Henderson and Brenna Theurer.
Mobley was previously convicted on a charge of aggravated kidnapping related to the Melson homicide and is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 28. Theurer is the ex-girlfriend of Henderson who lived with him at the time of Melson’s disappearance and subsequent death.
Once the two expert witnesses concluded their testimony, court was recessed until the following day. On Wednesday, Sept. 20 the first witness called to the stand was Melissa Crozier, Melson’s best friend.
Crozier testified she and Melson were like sisters and said she became concerned after she hadn’t heard from Melson – a 29-year-old mother of three – in two days. She testified Melson was scheduled to move in with her. Crozier explained after the lack of contact, she spoke with Melson’s sister who also indicated she had not heard from her.
Because she was not able to reach Melson and the fact her sister had not heard from her, Crozier stated she went to the Palestine Police Department. The Palestine police referred her to the Grapeland Police Department and a missing person’s report was filed.
It was also revealed in Crozier’s testimony that she learned Melson was last seen with Robert David Mobley on the night of June 16, 2016.
Following the cross-examination of Crozier by Sokolowski, the next witness called to the stand was Grapeland Police Officer Dan McIlhenny. McIlhenny testified he was the one who entered the missing person’s case into a database.
He explained he became aware Mobley was the last person to see Melson on June 16 and confirmed this with her father Jeff Melson. Vanessa Melson was residing with her father at a residence on College Street in Grapeland at the time of her disappearance.
McIlhenny testified he attempted to contact Mobley but received no response. He also said he talked to Mobley’s ex-wife, Melson’s father and a co-worker of Mobley’s in the initial stages of the investigation.
During the interview with Henderson and Theurer, both said Mobley and Melson had shown up at the Henderson property located on CR 1737, east of Percilla.
The couple reported they witnessed Mobley and Melson arguing in the early morning hours of June 17, 2016. Henderson, according to the Grapeland PD officer, said Mobley and Melson had left the scene but later returned. McIlhenny said Henderson informed him Melson was placed in a laundry room at the Henderson residence but indicated Henderson told him the altercation was strictly verbal.
In his testimony, McIlhenny indicated he was told by Henderson that the pair left his property and he did not see Mobley again until he showed up at the Henderson property on either July 4 or 5, but stressed Mobley had sent a text on June 17 saying he was out of gas.
Under cross-examination, McIlhenny was asked if Henderson knew what the argument was about. He replied Henderson informed him Mobley believed Melson was a snitch and she, along with her dad, were working with federal authorities to have Mobley arrested.
Brenna Theurer also was called to the stand. Theurer had provided the prosecution with crucial testimony needed to secure a conviction in Mobley’s case during last month’s trial.
Theurer was led in to the courtroom wearing jail issued clothing and the D.A. quickly moved to explain why she was in jail. Kaspar asked Theurer why she was in jail and Theurer replied it was on an unrelated charge of theft.
Kaspar also elicited testimony from Theurer about why her story had changed during the investigation. Theurer replied it was because she was scared at first and added she was still in the throes of a methamphetamine addiction at the time of Melson’s homicide.
Theurer was next asked to provide an account of the details surrounding the night of June 16 and the early morning hours of June 17, 2015.
She testified on the morning of June 17, 2015 she woke up to the sound of arguing in the driveway leading up to the Henderson property and went outside to investigate. Theurer said she heard a truck as well as a male and female arguing.
Theurer said as she approached the truck she recognized it as belonging to Robert Mobley and saw him because of the light coming from the cab. She said she did not know who the female occupant of the truck was.
At first, Theurer said Mobley was cordial towards her but his demeanor quickly changed. She said he began to curse at her and told her to go get James.
She said she returned to the house to get Henderson, but before they could get back to the gate leading into the property, Theurer said Mobley had driven off.
While she and Henderson were near the gate, Theurer said they noticed a pair of boots, a purse, a t-shirt and a pair of socks on the ground. She said they picked up the items and took them back to the house and placed them in the garage.
Theurer said they could still hear Mobley’s truck in the distance so they walked to the next gate to see if they could see anything. She explained they couldn’t see Mobley so they returned to the residence and brought the articles of clothing, along with the purse, inside the house.
As her testimony continued, Theurer said Henderson went into the bathroom and when he returned, he informed her to get the items they retrieved near the gate because Mobley was coming back to get them.
A short time later, Theurer said Mobley returned and he and Melson were still arguing. She testified Mobley told Melson to go into the laundry room and wait. As the arguing continued, Theurer testified she told Henderson she didn’t want Mobley at the house and wanted him to leave. She also said she confronted Mobley about the matter. She told him to take this business elsewhere because she “… was on probation and didn’t need any trouble.”
She added she also observed a small black case with syringes near Mobley and admitted in 2015, she had a meth addiction. After arguing with Mobley, Theurer said she went back into the bedroom where Henderson joined her and offered her some of the narcotic.
Theurer said she turned it down because there was so little left “… all it would do is piss me off.” She added she and Henderson began to argue once again about Mobley’s presence.
She testified Henderson told her, “If you don’t like it, you can go kick rocks. It’s just the way it is and the way it’s going to be. Now, shut up before you get hurt.”
Continuing with her testimony, Theurer said she attempted to call 911 but indicated Henderson took her phone. At that point, she became emotional on the stand and said she could hear what sounded like a stick being struck against a wall.
Over time, Theurer said the sound changed. She explained she could hear Melson screaming in pain and it sounded as if the stick was now hitting a person.
She explained she was still in the bedroom when the screaming briefly stopped. At that time, Theurer said Henderson left the bedroom but returned shortly to give her a cigarette and a Dr. Pepper.
Henderson left the bedroom once again but returned 30 minutes later, according to Theurer. She said he tried to make up and have sex with her, but she initially declined. Henderson was persistent and eventually the couple began to have intercourse.
While they were engaged in sexual activity, Theurer said Mobley called for Henderson to come into the other room. She said he went out there and it sounded as if the beatings had resumed.
Eventually, Theurer said she left the bedroom and witnessed Mobley beating Melson with a stick wrapped in electrical tape.
She was shown the stick by Kaspar and indicated that appeared to be the one used during the crime.
Theurer said Henderson was behind Mobley while Melson was sitting in a chair. As the beating continued, Theurer said Melson fell out of the chair and began to back towards a doorway. Henderson, she testified went around through the house and came up behind Melson to prevent her escape and placed his hands on her shoulders.
“Mobley kept hitting her and hitting her,” Theurer said from the witness stand. “I could see she wasn’t breathing and I ran into the bedroom.”
According to Theurer, she heard rustling outside of the bedroom and once again went to see what it was. She said she stopped when she heard what was described as huffing and puffing.
“It sounded to me like when James was having sex and it sounded very familiar,” Theurer said.
She said she returned to the bedroom, sat down on the bed and began to cry. At some point, Theurer explained she passed out /fell asleep but woke up to see Mobley and Henderson carrying an area rug out of the garage area with what appeared to be dark hair sticking out of it.
Theurer said the next thing she remembered was waking up at approximately 9:30 a.m. on the morning of June 17, 2015. She said Henderson told her Vanessa had left with Mobley and that everything was fine. She added, however, when she looked out the window she could see Mobley with a shovel and a pair of gloves.
Towards the conclusion of her testimony, Kaspar asked Theurer directly if James Eddie Henderson was involved with Vanessa Melson’s death.
“He didn’t do anything to stop it,” Theurer said.
“Was he involved?” Kaspar asked again.
Through tears, she replied, “Yes. Yes Ma’am.”
After her testimony concluded, Theurer was cross-examined by Sokolowski The defense attorney went through Theurer’s testimony piece-by-piece and questioned her repeatedly on the same topic.
Sokolowski asked where Melson was being struck and Theurer replied it was to her left side and around her facial area. The defense attorney re-asked the same question in different ways to the point where Kaspar objected to his line of questioning.
Sokolowski moved on to another topic and while Theurer showed obvious frustration, she never wavered on the significant details of her testimony.
Following the cross examination, Investigator Bill Ruland was called as a witness for the prosecution.
Ruland was the HCSO’s lead investigator on the case and he said he had interviewed Henderson several times over the course of the investigation. He added throughout his conversations with Henderson, his story consistently changed.
Several videos were shown to the jury of Henderson’s interview with the investigator. The first interview showed Henderson confirming the early part of Theurer’s testimony. Ruland also testified Henderson confirmed the part of the story about Mobley running out of gas and showed the text message exchange between the two.
The first text showed Mobley sent Henderson a text saying he needed help because he had run out of gas.
Henderson replied, “I’m in Crockett with my boss right now. Otherwise I’d be on top of it and you know this.
Mobley texted back, “I know bro. Text me when you’re on the way. If you could please bring me a Mountain Dew. Dat work I put in this morning left me with a dry mouth.”
After displaying the text message on the court room screen, Ruland remarked, “The only work I could see out there that day was the burial of Vanessa Melson.”
Ruland returned to the witness stand on Thursday and his was the only testimony heard on Sept. 21. He walked the jurors through the various interviews conducted with Henderson, including one which showed Henderson leading the investigators around his property before the Melson’s body was discovered.
“He pointed to every piece of woods except where she was buried,” Ruland said. “It was the closest patch of woods to him, but he was very reluctant to go out there.”
The various interviews showed Ruland questioning Henderson about what happened and bit by bit, the story Henderson told law enforcement began to change. He initially said Mobley and Melson had left the same night they arrived and they never came inside. Then, Henderson’s interview revealed he changed his story to say Mobley and Melson had been inside the house.”
As the videos continued, Henderson could be seen to say Mobley threatened him. Henderson said he backed down after confronting Mobley about beating Melson.
“You’re right,” Henderson said on the video. “You do you and I’m gonna do me. He was beating the (expletive deleted) out of her. You could tell she was in fear for her life. Bobby was beating the tee-total (expletive deleted) out of her.”
Before the day three testimony ended, Henderson said at one point Melson was begging to see her children one last time.
Henderson could also be seen telling Ruland, “I’m screwed because the evidence points to me.”
Ruland replied the reason was Henderson’s story had been inconsistent and added “Tell me the truth.”
“I gotta stick with my story, Bill. It’s my only hope,” Henderson said on the video at the end of day three.
Day four opened with Sokolowski’s cross examination of Ruland and when the defense attorney was finished, the state rested its case.
The trial will begin again on Monday, Sept. 25 at 9 a.m. Closing arguments are expected to be heard Monday morning and the jury will be asked to render its verdict shortly afterwards.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.